Several mobile, especially smartphone users, are receiving marketing messages on WhatsApp. The app does not share or sell user data. How, then marketers are obtaining your mobile number?
In the digital age, it becomes nearly impossible to find anyone not using a mobile (sometimes two or more) and readily sharing their number over internet or apps. Think about WhatsApp, whose numbers of users is mind-boggling. WhatsApp has over 700 million users, who send out more than 30 billion messages every day. Compare this with Twitter's user base of 284 million and Instagram's 300 million. That is the reason there is a sudden surge in marketing messages on WhatsApp.
Interestingly, more and more users of WhatsApp are receiving either an image and contact card from unknown numbers or from numbers that are not in their contacts list. So, how they are obtaining your personal number and sending you the message?
According to eScan, an anti-virus and content security solution provider, although the bulk marketing service from WhatsApp promises to send out mass text or image messages to hundreds of thousands of users who use the app, it may not be selling user data. eScan, quoting Jan Koum, who co-founded WhatsApp with Brian Acton, said, the messaging service collects very little data of its users. “This free app does not ask for user's e-mail address and does not even require a real sign up. The other things WhatsApp will not collect are: home address, GPS location, your likes and search history,” Koum had said.
Moreover, he also added that none of the user data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and that they really have no plans to collect and store user's data. WhatsApp has even added encryption for messages sent amongst its millions of users in order to prevent messages from being hacked or monitored, eScan said.
The question therefore is if WhatsApp itself is not collecting and selling its users data, then from where are these companies getting the mobile numbers of millions of users?
Here are the possible scenarios where we do not even think while sharing our mobile number...
We overshare our mobile number:
Anytime we fill a form, not many of us really hesitate to give out our mobile number-whether it's a lucky draw, a signup form, contest entry, a warranty registration, or for social networking profile. Many of us also mention our phone number in the email signature. In such situations, there is always a chance that our mobile number can end up in someone else's hands.
Sharing mobile number on dating sites:
Users sign up on dating and romance sites and easily provide their mobile numbers. At times, many of us get emotionally carried away and share other details as well on such sites.
Social media sites:
Social networking sites display phone numbers and e-mail addresses of users. This is another way in which companies get our mobile number. Sometime back, Facebook admitted that six million of its members' phone numbers and email addresses were accidentally leaked for a period of about a year. However, Facebook blamed the leaks on a technical glitch.
Product warranty cards:
When a user register online for a new product that she wishes to purchase, the user needs to provide his contact number, names, addresses and e-mails, which can be sold to marketers and data brokers.
So, how you can keep your mobile number from oversharing or minimize the leakage?
eScan suggests a user should be careful and think twice before sharing her mobile number. Here are the suggestions from eScan...
• Never be in a hurry to disclose your phone number. Ask yourself if it is really required for you to give your number. Maybe your-email address is enough.
• Be careful when you register for contests and lucky draws. Read the fine print or contest terms closely that will specify whether the contest operators will sell your data to other companies.
• Be cautious when registering at websites. Ask yourself if the website registration really requires your phone number.
In addition, the user can use privacy guard feature that is available in some of the smartphones. But remember, since this feature requires root access, several of the top mobile brands will not provide this facility. In case you try to install a privacy guard, it will not be installed due to lack of root access or it will violate your warrantee. There are some smartphones that provide privacy guard feature. For example, Micromax Yureka that has inbuilt privacy guard but then this handset is not easily available and can be bought through online auction only. Better option, if permitted by your wallet, is to buy an Apple mobile that provide privacy controls for users.
In the meanwhile, just pause for a second and think again whether you really, really need to provide your mobile number with anyone.